Not every oyster contains a valuable pearl, but it’s difficult to tell which oysters do and which don’t. It’s like investment: picking the worthwhile investments takes expertise, skill and judgement. Liz Darney is an AdviceFirst Financial Adviser focused on wealth management.

She also happens to be fascinated with and is an expert in pearls, and the two are not that dissimilar…

“Appropriately, my interest in pearls first started when I invested in a small ASX-listed company that was developing a South Sea Pearl operation in Indonesia.  Like most investments, I like to do my research. In doing so, I became intrigued by the pearl-culturing process and discovering the differences between the major types of pearls that are available. 

South Sea pearls are generally considered the crème de la crème of pearls. Truly natural South Sea pearls are very rare indeed, so the vast majority are “cultured”. This involves inserting a bead and small piece of the mantle tissue from a donor oyster into the gonad of the recipient. The pearl can be harvested at around 2 years and, frequently the oyster can be re-seeded for a further one or two cycles. A variant is the Tahitian pearl, which have a more grey-blue base colour, often with quite colourful overtones.

Akoya pearls have been historically grown in Japan where the pearl culturing process first came alive. As with South Sea pearls, these are grown in saltwater molluscs around a bead.  Good quality akoya pearls will have a mirror-like lustre.

Freshwater pearls are grown in a type of mussel, with the industry having a major foothold in China. Mussels can produce many more pearls at a time, so these have historically been high volume, lower cost.  Historically, they were seeded just with tissue rather than a bead.  However, the range and quality of freshwater pearls has exploded in recent years and good quality freshwater pearls make an enjoyable buy.

When looking for quality, the general parameters by which pearls are measured are roundness, surface blemish, lustre and orient. Lustre refers to the shine, which can be mirror-like or satiny. The best pearls will have an almost light-bulb look. Orient is more subtle – the oil-like colours that are seen on the best pearls.

There are many types of replica pearls as well – some with quite good quality. The initial test for finding if a pearl is real is to rub it against your tooth – a real pearl will have a gritty feel, while a fake is likely to feel smooth.

Around a year after making my investment, I received a 25% shareholder discount voucher, along with a large dividend from the share-holding. Now while compounding investments is great for building long-term wealth, there’s also a time to “make, take and spend”. So came about my first pair of South Sea pearl earrings.  Since then, my modest collection has expanded a little and most days at the office will see me wearing pearls of some kind.”

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of Liz Darney.

P.P.S. Do you have a pastime you’re passionate about that makes for a better, more interesting life? For Liz Darney, it’s collecting pearls. But yours could be art, cars, wine, roses, native birds or trees, or discovering ancient recipes…Every other month, we’ll feature an item about something special someone enthuses about, and we’d be delighted to hear from you. Please tell us about your pastime in a few words (200-400) and send your submission to

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